Climate change report not pretty (Editorial)

(June 1, 2014) Farmers are beginning to pay attention to climate change.
Matt Russell is a fifth generation Iowa farmer. He was one of five members on hand to discuss the release on May 6 of the third National Climate Assessment, an 840-page document detailing how climate is impacting — and will impact — agriculture.
Russell says, sure, when he was growing up there were weather disruptions in the agricultural process on the farm. Today, he said, those disruptions are the norm.
Ask a farmer about the politics of climate change and the conversation will go nowhere.
“Ask him about the weather and it’s a another ballgame,” suggests Russell.
An overview of the climate assessment report states that “climate change is already affecting the American people in far-reaching ways. Certain types of extreme weather events with links to climate change have become more frequent and/or intense, including prolonged periods of heat, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. In addition, warming is causing sea levels to rise and glaciers and Arctic sea ice to melt, and oceans are becoming more acidic as they absorb carbon dioxide. These and other aspects of climate change are disrupting people’s lives and damaging some sectors of our economy.”
The report’s 25 page chapter on agriculture discusses U.S. agriculture and forestry as sectors that will be impacted by adverse climate conditions and extreme weather events, but also sectors that can contribute to solutions and mitigate climate change impacts through things such as renewable energy production, carbon sequestration and land management and cropping practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
There are six “key messages” on ag:
• Climate disruptions to agricultural production have increased in the past 40 years and are projected to increase over the next 25 years. By mid-century and beyond, these impacts will be increasingly negative on most crops and livestock;
• Many agricultural regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production from increased stress due to weeds, diseases, insect pests and other climate change induced stresses;
• Current loss and degradation of critical agricultural soil and water assets due to increasing extremes in precipitation will continue to challenge both rainfed and irrigated agriculture unless innovative conservation methods are implemented;
• The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock productivity because critical thresholds are already being exceeded;
• Agriculture has been able to adapt to recent changes in climate. However, increased innovation will be needed to ensure the rate of adaptation of agriculture and the associated socioeconomic system can keep pace with climate change over the next 25 years; and
• Climate change effects on agriculture will have consequences for food security, both in the United States and globally, through changes in crop yields and food prices and effects on food processing, storage, transportation, and retailing.
Adaptation measures can help delay and reduce some of these impacts.
It’s not a pretty picture. Keep in mind that the American farmer has always had to adapt and has always met that challenge.
This time around, if this assessment and others are on the mark, it’s going to take a major investment in technology to adjust agricultural systems to the new reality.